Review of David Herrle's Abyssinia, Jill Rush - Jane Freese
|Jane is a freelance writer and author of In Madera Canyon, a picture book for children.|
Time Being Books 2010
Herrle’s poetry swims through feelings and memories of a girl from his childhood, the merciless ticking of watches, hair that flows and grows, failure, tears, death, the bustle of cities, silent paintings, the shadows of classic movie stars, laughter — and rain. Abyssinia, Jill Rush is a collection of 86 poems divided into three sections.
“Self-Centered” is the title of the first section. Poets are often accused of being self-absorbed, navel contemplating narcissists. Herrle accepts and even pokes fun at this indictment. By indulging in his own self-importance he challenges readers to deny that we all are pompous and the center of our own weirdly comical mirror world.
There Was No Noble Savage
I stand in your center, city, for anywhere I stand is the center.
I am an aggregate of egos; I am a mob.
Here, within, I’m out of town. Here, within, I am free of age and death.
Think I’ll throw my reflection at your windows,
think I’ll protest the marching protestors,
think I’ll sing “Downtown” a cappella until the homeless pay me to stop.
What the Hecht, city, you busy dirty hussy.
Herrle is an intellectual, no doubt about that. He includes a “Notes” section at the back of the book to provide clarification with respect to some of the more obscure references and foreign phrases. Though there is a profound dimension of erudition to Herrle and his poetry, the writing is accessible and deeply human. Not all of the references are obscure, many occupy the low-brow strata of popular culture; Barbie, Mary Poppins, Christina Aguilera, LL Cool J to name a few. The key to enjoying this book comes from recognizing the many universal truths that Herrle is throwing at us — not only our self-centeredness, but also our insistence on indulging our misery.
This button will make you happy.
Press this button for happiness.
This button — press it.
It will make you happy, once pressed.
You refuse to press this button?
This button that brings happiness with one press?
I refuse too, doomed lover,
I will never press this button.
In the second section of the collection, “Jill Rush,” Herrle swan dives into past and present impressions of females. Erotic fascination collides against boyish trepidation. Childhood impressions waft into the present.
from I Found My Jill on Lemon Hill
. . .At school the next day, a rumor spread that a new girl had been enrolled.
I saw her, first period: “Class, this is Jill Rush.”
She had blue and black hair and a pale face powdered paler.
Skirt so high that I could see her snowball buttocks.
Black and red Chucks.
Today my mother calls on the phone as my naked wife jiggles to the shower,
and I remember
in the busy river of time.
Many of the poems are quite short consisting of a few carefully crafted, deceptively simple sentences.
Sonia Sunset’s sun-spun hair is a golden liar.
It strikes midnight like a comet.
Turns my head into a pumpkin.
Bewitches my loins into nervous rats.
The last section of the book is entitled “Abyssinia.” Herrle informs readers between the dedication page and the table of contents that: “Abyssinia” is a 1930s pun on “I’ll be seeing you.” This concluding portion of the book contains the darkest set of poems — an examination of sadness, evil and death. Some of the poems in this section resonate with a surreal, dreamlike quality.
Herrle is not a man to deceive himself about life’s contradictions. Nietzsche said, “Knowledge is death.” For the poet, this awareness must be expressed. Wallace Stevens said, "Poetry is the scholar's art." Scholarly, Herrle wrestles between the darkness and the light, between tears and laughter.
from A Tear Is the Ultimon
. . .You have seen the ultimate miracle:
that we shed tears, that our hearts
are full of tragedy, though comedy fills our heads.
Several poems in Abyssinia, Jill Rush are funny. However, they will not inspire Hallmark greeting cards. Herrle rewards the reader by refusing to recoil from unpleasant and contradictory feelings and situations. There were times when I wasn’t sure how seriously I was meant to take a particular poem. For example, Herrle articulates in the following selection, profound doubts about the value of his own efforts.
from Blunt Farce Drama to the Head
Metered verse is quaint, like chintz
And free verse? Please!
Talk about the coward’s craft!
Who isn’t a poet these days?
Too many cooks in the kitschen.
I apologize for my part in spreading the virus:
boo-hooing, tra-la-la-ing, and exclaiming like some
No need to apologize, David Herrle. As Ed Hirsch writes in, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry (1999), “Perhaps poetry exists because it carries necessary human information that cannot be communicated in any other way. Some of that information is joyous, some a distress signal from afar that whispers in the inner ear.”
From what Herrle reveals of himself, it is clear that he has experienced loss, bullying and disappointment. Emerging with his memories and sense of humor intact, Herrle knows and shows who he is — perceptive, intellectual, sensual and ornery.
(See the original posting at Mathias B. Freese's blog.)
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